Money & Me: ‘There's no point in setting financial milestones because they limit you’

Yasser Obeid learnt to manage money wisely after establishing his communications company

Yasser Obeid, managing director of aka Media, says he is not a spender and invests a lot of his money back into the company. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National
Yasser Obeid, managing director of aka Media, says he is not a spender and invests a lot of his money back into the company. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National

Yasser Obeid is managing director at aka Media, an integrated communications company he founded in 2011 that helped to make The Wedding Party 2: Destination Dubai, Nigeria’s highest grossing movie.

A veteran of Dubai’s film and creative media sector, he aims to give clients a “refreshingly different”, disruptive way to deliver communications.

Mr Obied, who has Russian and Sudanese parents, studied in London and Moscow before becoming a producer, visual effects artist and art director.

Now 45, he lives with his wife and two children in Dubai’s Arabian Ranches.

Did your upbringing shape your money outlook?

I was born in 1975 in (Leonid) Brezhnev-era Moscow. My dad grew up in Sudan, got the opportunity to study in Russia and lived there for 12 years. He got a doctorate and later went into television. Mother was in micro-biology.

When I was four, we moved to Sudan, then Libya, the UK, Italy and my family ended up here in the early 1990s. When you move around as much, you start thinking in multiple currencies.

I think of my family as being solid middle class. We weren’t rich, we weren’t easy with money, it was tight at times. That had two effects on me; when I started making money, I had a bit of a splurge, spending everything I had, but then realised what I was doing and decided to be more conservative.

When did you learn to handle cash?

I went to university in Russia from 1993 to 1997, and was being sent something like $200 a month to cover my bills. It taught me how to manage money and adhere to a budget.

But money maturity came late, probably with the company. That’s when you really learn how to balance your books. True money management comes when you manage to live on something, set something aside and shuffle money around from one corner to another to make it diversified.

Do you recall your first salary?

My first TV job. I got sent by the university [to do] an internship and then stayed. I was studying computer networking, but had more fun on my job, which is why I went in a different direction when I graduated. I was an assistant producer, coming up with ideas for a kids’ TV show. The peanuts we were paid … it was more fun than money; $100 max a month. You could live on that, badly, but it gave me good experience.

When you come to Dubai, there are so many opportunities to spend; for most people it’s difficult to save anything

Yasser Obeid, managing director, aka Media

Why start aka Media?

I took my gratuity from my old job and decided to build my own thing, where I could really add some value to the industry here. We started initially as a production company but you have to evolve every couple of years. We decided to cover the whole spectrum of marketing and production at the same time.

Besides producing for other people, we produce our own content, try and make it as interesting and watchable as possible. The mediums might have changed from VHS to TV to online, but it’s still the same thing, storytelling, at the end of the day.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I’m not a spender, for sure. I invest a lot of my money back into the company. I have investments in other things, but I keep a balance. I like to have a certain lifestyle and don’t spend above what I think I can afford.

When you come to Dubai, there are so many opportunities to spend; for most people it’s difficult to save anything.

How do you save?

At the moment, stocks and exchange-traded funds. A big portion of my saving goes there. I’ve got a decent spread, which has worked so far. And property … the villa I’m living in.

The business, for my well-being and for everyone else, counts as my best investment. So far, it has kept me busy and fed.

Mr Obeid invests a big portion of his saving in stocks, exchange-traded funds and property. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National
Mr Obeid invests a big portion of his saving in stocks, exchange-traded funds and property. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National

What is your money philosophy?

Money’s definitely not everything. It’s a stimulus in many ways to get you to do things. I like to afford a certain lifestyle – there isn’t a person who would think otherwise. And I like winning business. That brings more excitement than the actual cash. Obviously, it’s got financial repercussions, but it’s not about the money, it’s the victory that’s key.

Are you wise with money?

Now yes, less so 10 years ago. This comes with age and knowing what money’s worth and how to allocate it. Running a business helps. I’ve got kids and I’ve got “kids” … I feel utterly responsible for my team because I am their livelihood in many ways and don’t take it lightly.

Any key financial lessons?

I regret getting a credit card when I was young and stupid. I got into debt and paying it off was difficult and painful. I haven’t had a credit card since.

What are you happiest spending on?

Travel used to be a big thing for me, but that’s gone into the savings pot. In terms of luxuries, I spend too much time at work to do a lot more out of it. I bought myself a Porsche Boxster with cash as I knew I didn’t want to go into loans. This was more an impulse thing, just before the pandemic hit, so at one point I was thinking, “Maybe this wasn’t the best time to do this”.

Did the pandemic impact you?

I’m so happy I moved to a villa before the pandemic started, but for me the routine of going to the office is something sacred, so I started getting restless.

Our business in general is split in two directions; one very outdoor, which is filming, the other post-production. We were lucky to have shot on March 14 – on the 15th, everything closed down. We were doing some post-production and shot our next film four months after lockdown.

Now, it has pretty much gone back to where it was, but everyone’s very budget-sensitive.

Have you experienced other fluctuations?

Resilience is something you learn once you start a business. If you’ve lasted this long, it’s there, you know how to fix stuff and wriggle out of difficult situations. Otherwise, you’re not going to be there that long.

We had some tight times, especially in the beginning. We recovered. For us, this (pandemic) was actually easier than some earlier situations because the resilience was there; you know how to work around certain difficulties.

Have you set a financial milestone?

I’ve never put money as a total objective of the company because it needs to be something more than that. We’re trying different things here and there, whether that brings fruit or not, we’ll have to wait and see. There are tonnes of plans to grow even further that might require certain investments.

There’s no point in putting a financial milestone for yourself because that sets a limit, in a way.

Do you plan for retirement?

I’m afraid of retiring because I cannot imagine myself not doing anything. I’ll probably end up working until I kick the bucket … I have fun when I work.

There is the bread and butter stuff, but most of the time it is enjoyable. I do occasionally fantasise about having a cottage in the mountains overlooking the French or Italian Riviera. Probably in about 10 years, I’ll have a retirement plan.

Updated: May 9, 2021 04:57 PM

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